Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Spa day

It's a good thing my new boss likes me.  Horse life is very demanding and it tends to come in waves.  Today was Theo's annual saddle fitting and a visit from his manicurist.  I spent all morning at the barn.  I had to supervise, move my horse around, and write the checks.  Lots of checks.

I love the sight of brand new shoes.

Interestingly, I need to change his shoeing schedule.  Seven weeks doesn't cut it anymore because he's completely wearing through his back shoes.  I should be okay at six weeks, but at seven, his back shoes looked like slivers.  And he doesn't wear dainty shoes!  My farrier shrugged and said 'he's working hard'.  Trainer A said it's good that he's wearing down his back shoes as opposed to his front shoes.  So I'm just going to smile and keep writing the checks.

We had a new saddle fitter this year since the Saddle Doctor is now pretty much retired.  Joshua Siegel came out today to take care of our ponies.  Theo's saddles were once again declared to be great fits, but both had the same problem.  Joshua looked at my dressage saddle on Theo, pulled it off, flipped it over, then asked 'do you sit to the right by any chance?'.

Yeah, that bad left hip means I tend to carry more weight on the right.  And I'm consistent enough to make my flocking break down on one side.  I'm sure everyone else using my saddles will be thrilled that they're back to center.  I rode in my dressage saddle afterward and it was a little weird.  I felt like I was leaning left, but a check in the mirror showed that I was even.  Whelp, that's a thing.

And I have to say, there is no bliss greater than working in a saddle that fits both the horse and the rider.  I cantered Theo around and it is nothing to stay in the correct position.  My saddle puts me right where I'm supposed to be and lets my horse do his job.  It's so comfortable and wonderful.

I might have to get the saddle fitter out more often.  I wouldn't want my pony to get lopsided.  He'd look odd.

Well, he's already odd.  Odder, perhaps.

Friday, July 21, 2017

The picnic is over

Today was a huge day for me.  I've never in my 30+ years of horses taken a horse somewhere by myself.  Ever.  I didn't have a trailer and even if I did, the idea of driving a horse terrified me.  Today, I did it!  I drove 130 miles with a horse trailer and no one died!

Theo was pretty chill about this change in routine.  He hates changes in routine as a rule, but I bring enough cookies, he can cope.  He didn't really want to load into the strange trailer with no other horses even in the vicinity, but I convinced him to hop on while I got the butt bar.  Many cookies for the poor, confused pony.

I can't believe this rig is mine 

It took me about an hour to drive to Mary's place and it was almost entirely on highways or interstates.  It was an awesome way to rack up miles with a loaded trailer.  No lights, no lane changes, just lots of time in one lane with a big shoulder available if I needed to move over.  I got my trailer turned around at all of the parking spots and didn't get stuck.  I even loaded and unloaded my gear completely by myself.  I was completely autonomous!

As for my lesson?  Well, Mary is exactly as her reputation describes:  friendly, helpful, very honest.  Very, very honest.  After watching me warm up for a couple minutes, she asked if that was the way I showed him.  I said no, I usually wait to pick up a contact and establish forward first.  She said okay, show me the neck you have when you show.  So I picked Theo up and asked him to come onto the contact.  She watched for another minute, asked me to canter, and then flagged me over.

As she put it, I have a horse that doesn't bend right.  At all.  Even when tracking right, his neck bends left.  He never releases his right jaw, doesn't chew the bit on that side, and is not supple.  We don't have a good contact.  I asked if we were at First and she said no, it wasn't good enough for First.  We're not ready.

It stung.  I won't pretend it didn't.  It was blunt and honest, exactly what I wanted.  We're not going at First right now.  We don't have the required connection.  So I asked what I should do.  Then we got our asses kicked from one end of the ring to the other.  Theo would not flex right.  At all.  So she set us up to turn down the center line and then leg yield off of my right leg to the wall.  But not a text book leg yield.  She wanted his shoulders to lead significantly while keeping his bend to the right.  This was to push him to stretch muscles he wouldn't release.  And once he had the idea, we started asking him to supple and carry his neck in a round way while leading with his shoulders.

Theo was so resistant to this new plan that after twenty minutes, Mary slapped a draw rein on my right side.  As she put it, she didn't want to watch me struggle and was going to give me some leverage.  I'm a h/j rider, I'm very familiar with draw reins.  I was surprised to have one put on during a dressage lesson, but it sure made the point to mi papi.  It took another fifteen minutes, but I knew the exact moment he released his jaw and flexed through his poll.  I felt it through the entire front half of his body and Mary yelled 'yes, there, finally!'.  He started to work his mouth on the right side rather than keeping it clamped shut because he was being asked to submit to the bit.

New shipping boots!

While tightening my noseband, Mary told Theo 'the picnic is over'.  No more trotting around looking like a giraffe.  He is to come into the ring, pick up a contact, and get to work.  She saw absolutely no sign of curling from him, even under pressure.  Assuming the curling was a problem before, we've fixed it.  Draw rein, lots of pressure, and he didn't offer to curl.  I'm under instructions to work on getting him into a First level appropriate outline because curling is not a concern.  Now he's locking me out and that isn't allowed anymore.  I am to work that leg yield off of my right leg to force his neck to flex right properly and not do that weird snake thing while he avoids the true bend.

It was really cool the moment when he gave through the right and lifted his neck for me, coming onto the contact like I'd been hoping for all this time.

I feel some pride that no matter what adjustment she asked for, I could do it.  Supple him, poll down, leg yield, move his shoulders.  I've learned to manipulate my pony if nothing else.  And no complaints about our forward until the end of the lesson when he was melting in the heat.  We certainly haven't been wasting our time, just lost track of where we're going.

So here I am, accomplished and slightly broken hearted.  I'm dropping down to T3 and F1 until further notice.  Apparently the judges aren't blind.  I am.  I have a lot of thinking to do on all of this.  Mary was exactly what I hoped for, an emotionally detached and very honest voice of experience.  She seemed to like Theo, thought he was a good match for an adult ammy with a history of concussions.  He was a very, very good boy under pressure.  He never offered to quit or actively fight, just some stubborn evasion.  But if I want to progress with him, we have to fix this fundamental flaw.  He needs to submit to the bit.

It may take me awhile to reconcile the different feedback I'm getting.  But I know Mary's trained up several Grand Prix level horses.  I have to believe she knows what this level takes.

First impressions

I should be working.  I'm not.  I'm sitting here running through the checklist for my truck and trailer over and over again while trying to remember how to breathe in this damn bra.  If I'm going to a big time dressage-ing lesson, I'm going to strap down my boobs.  Whatever helps, right?

I've known enough professional trainers to be included in some of the behind the scenes chatter.  One topic that I've heard come up several times is trailer in lessons.  Trailer in lessons are a complete mystery for the trainer on that first ride.  It could be someone completely together and ready.  It could also be someone with an unfit horse, badly shod, ill fitting tack, and no clue that thinks they're ready for the Olympics.  I really don't want anyone to think I'm a random hobo that wandered over to learn to ride horses good.  I don't have many ties to the dressage world and I'm hoping to gain some.  I'd like those future acquaintances to not think I'm clueless.

Serious business dressage horse

I've picked out my outfit carefully.  Pretty new full seat Pipers in Monaco blue with lilac piping and a white polo with blue seams.  I put on a floral belt from Equine Coture because I've still got to be me, but it's a very conservative outfit overall.  Black leather gloves, black helmet with hair up, tall boots, little spurs.  No jewelry other than my Fitbit.  I'll carry my show whip.

Theo is also going conservative.  Navy PS of Sweden pad with white trim and his silver clincher browband.  White boots just came out of the dryer.  It's really the best time of year for anyone to meet him, he's sleek and shiny and sporting the kind of dapples usually reserved for toy horses in plastic boxes.  I'll braid his forelock up so he looks a bit less like a mischievous pony and I'll take the time to fully brush out his tail.  I also treated him to some brand new shipping boots in navy.  I'm starting to pick up a theme.

I gave the Behemoth a quick wash last night to get the pollen and pine needles off.  I don't think it's had a bath since we bought it last summer, so it was very due.  Pollen + pine tree resin + dust + sitting in the rain = yellow sludge in a line along the side of the truck.    Not attractive.  So I scrubbed the sludge off and cleaned all of the pine needles out from the bottom of the windshield and the roof.  The trailer is still spotless and new, so nothing to be done there.  The hubby hitched it last night for me since he knows me and knows I'll be nervous and frazzled trying to hit the road by myself.  He also got the back up cam and the camera that watches Theo set up for me.  I'm taking him out to dinner tomorrow.

So that leaves me with just the riding and having a clue part.  Well, I guess I'll just have to cross my fingers on that one. 

Very serious competitors

The weather sure isn't cooperating.  86* for a high according to my phone, but all week we've been blasting up to 90* with tropical levels of humidity despite the forecast.  My lesson is at 3:30pm.  Ugh.  I'm not too worried, all of our cardio work means he can hold up in the heat for at least an evaluation lesson.  He'll be melting a bit, but he demonstrated for me this week that he's got more in the tank and can cope. 

So I sit here at my desk, dressed for my lesson, waiting for the clock to strike noon and send me on my way.  I'm not getting a thing done.  All I'm doing is thinking about how long the drive will take, where to park my rig, my checklist.  Today is kind of a big day for me and I just want it to get started already! 

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Product Review: Cheeta Trotter Bra

Background:  I am rather hourglass shaped.  Which is a polite way of saying there's junk in the trunk and some serious business going on upstairs as well.  I wear a 34D bra and at 5'2", that's not a small percentage of my total mass.  Most of my life I've been fine with a sports bra and occasionally even a regular bra while riding.  Posting isn't that bad and when you never sit the canter?  Bouncing can be managed.

Never, ever wear a front clip bra while riding.  Yes, I speak from experience.  Explaining to the older, angry German man that I needed to step out of my lesson to duct tape my broken bra back together was a unique experience.  I snapped the little plastic clip in the midst of a jumping course.  Bouncy bouncy.

But now a days I spend a lot of time with my tush in the saddle and the bouncing is a problem.  Gods help me if I forget to pack a sports bra and even with that, there's some unseemly jiggling going on when I sit the trot.  I needed something with some real substance and staying power.

100% not me

The Product:  The Cheeta Trotter bra is a compression bra with a downward facing zipper in the back.  It's not like your usual pull on bra.  There's a video for getting everything settled where it should be and you do not lift the girls up to their usual position.  The model I chose is the one with the built in tank top in nude.

Review:  This thing is substantial.  The tank top part is sturdy and stays tucked into my breeches nicely.  The bra, though.  That thing is intense.  I ordered a medium based on my rib cage being between 34 and 36.  When it arrived, I noticed right off the bat that this thing isn't kidding about the elastic.  There was much wiggling to pull it on.

The zipper has a long tab on it so you can zip it on your own without too much trouble.  There's a single hook at the end to keep it from unzipping at an awkward moment like jumping a course in front of an angry man with a smoker's cough and a heavy accent.  It's definitely weird zipping something down, but it pushes the girls down and then crushes them into place.  Seriously, it took me a second to figure out breathing.  It's not uncomfortable anywhere, but you are definitely aware that you're strapped down.

My shirts definitely fit better with it on and I expect my jackets will look nicer with a solid inch taken off of my chest.  In the saddle, I finally had stability in the sitting trot!  Sure, I can perceive movement if I really focus on it, but it's certainly not bouncing.  All of my mass is squished in where it belongs, over my center of gravity.  There's a lot less distracting flopping going on.  It didn't interfere with my ride at all, but it does take some getting used to.  This is the first bra that successfully contained all of that mass while sitting Theo's working trot.

These things are not cheap.  Something like $67 through Smartpak a pop.  I intend to buy more.  It is such a relief to sit the trot and not have a bunch on unmanageable, sometimes uncomfortable movement.  I can't say it's a comfortable bra, it felt nice to take it off (and try to fluff the girls back up to their usual dimensions, poor things), but if you've got some serious business going on in the area of the chest, this will do the job of keeping everything sleek and still even during the sitting trot.  I recommend it.

Friday, July 14, 2017


I don't have sponsors or advertisers or even a particularly large following on my blog.  It's mostly a stream of consciousness for me to write things out and share my experiences with my online friends.  I like to write and it helps me nail down things that are avoiding explanation.  I've got good days, bad days, victories, defeats, and all of the boring days in between.  I don't edit what I've posted in the past because, when my fingers were on the keys, it was true.  It was what I was feeling and thinking.  It's important to look back and remember what I was experiencing during times of high emotion, especially as I'm usually very logical.  It's easy to forget why I felt a certain way when months have passed.

My last two posts were very much in the throes of emotion.  I look back at them and go 'omg, take a breath, girl'.  But that's what I was feeling.  It was what was going through my mind, what I was experiencing.  

I've come to the conclusion that horses are amplifiers for our emotions.  They bring out the best in us.  I'm more patient, more trusting, more courageous when I'm around horses.  They force us to leave behind our long term plans and logic to live in their world of emotions and immediacy.  If you're with a horse, you're living in the moment.  You can't plan for an hour ahead when, at any moment, something could change and need your absolute attention.  A horse fly, a loud motorcycle, small children dropping things from the hay loft without warning (you gotta love summer camp weeks), any of those things can completely take over your horse's mind and become the only thing they're thinking about.  They don't give a damn or even understand that there's a show in two weeks.  They are worried about that fly on their belly right now.  Not being with them in that moment is a good way to get hurt.

It also brings out the worst in us.  I'm at my most raw, my most intense when it comes to horses.  Particularly a horse that is my horse.  In order to get those highs, you have to deal with the opposite.  The lows, the frustration, the anger.  The embarrassment.  Everything is amplified when you step out of our modern, slightly detached adult lives and immerse yourself in your passion for creatures that are ruled by their emotions.

I see it every day to varying degrees.  Some people don't lose themselves so much and everything just rolls off of them.  Some lose themselves too much and the horse becomes an extension of themselves.  They take any slight of their horse as an insult to themselves.  I like to think I'm in the middle.  I'm certainly not unattached, but I'll be the first to tell you that my horse is a lazy asshole a lot of the time.  But anything involving my horse amps my reactions.  I'm emotionally invested enough to make me react in ways that my co-workers would find utterly alien.  They know me as someone that keeps their emotions in complete check.  They wouldn't recognize me at the barn, burying my face in my horse's neck because I'm fighting tears.

Horses bring out the best and worst in us.  I've accepted the fact that in order for me to experience moments of true courage and achievement, I must also experience the opposites.  I have to experience the fear and failure.  You don't get to have just one side of the spectrum.  It's harder to cope when your emotions are ramped up, but that's what happens when you throw yourself into your passion.  It's not a hobby that's safe enough or cheap enough to take up lightly.  At this level, it has to be all or none.

So yes, in the cold light of day, my intense reactions are bizarre and confusing.  I was embarrassed and hurt because my horse had another bad score on his record.  It's far from the end of days and there was a lady in my class who's horse completely melted down.  I'm sure she would have given anything to trade with me.  There was another rider in warm up who's horse put on an amazing display of bucks, spins, and rears that would have happily traded problems with me.

I don't have a solution or way to prevent my reaction from happening again.  If I'm going to participate in a sport that revolves around creatures that run off of emotions, requires a great deal of emotional investment, and is judged on a very short snapshot of our skills, it's going to happen.  Being aware of it helps to keep me from doing anything rash.  I know I need to wait and come down from whatever I've experienced, good or bad.  I waited until this morning to talk to Trainer A.  It was a calm, adult conversation that cleared up confusion for everyone and set new expectations.  I couldn't have that conversation yesterday, I still felt too raw.  I had to let my feelings settle, take a day off and just breathe.

As much as I dislike having my emotions amplified, I'm reminded of a conversation I had with my husband years ago.  I tried to explain why I give up so much for my hobby.  He didn't understand until I brought up his passion for creating things.  When he can't make things, he's moody and frustrated.  That is his passion, my horse is mine. It's the same, soul devouring drive.  It would be like me asking him not to create anymore.  To which he said, "But that would be so empty."

Yes, it would be.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Led astray

I had the same dream over and over last night.  That very rarely happens to me.  I had this file that I needed to put away, but it didn't fit anywhere.  This is the downside to being an analyst.  Even my subconscious seems to insist on everything being neatly categorized.  But the file didn't go anywhere.  No matter how any times I tried to put it away, it popped back out because it didn't fit.

I watched my test again in the harsh light of day and yeah, something's broken.  Our scores have been dropping all season.  I know it's not all about the scores, but when all of the judges think we've gone backwards, something is up.  But that's not why I couldn't put the file away.  I couldn't put it away because I was also being told it was the nicest test I've done.  I came out of the ring and thought that was really good.  I was told it was really good.  Not just 'good job doing what we wanted to do' but good as in getting a really good score.  But it's my lowest scoring.

But he sure is pretty

You can see why the file just doesn't want to fit.  I left Theo's head there.  I'm watching my test wondering why I left him like that, especially at a show.  I could have easily tucked him in a couple more degrees so that he was just a bit ahead of the vertical without messing everything up.  But I did it because I was told to in warm up.   I've been very specifically told to leave his head alone, which with Theo, means he's going to go around with his nose out.  Because that is how the Theo do and it's been weeks of me letting him do whatever with his head while we straighten him out.

Yesterday, I was that fool that goes in, isn't prepared, and then blames the judge for my poor score. 

So here I am, having a terrible revelation.  Trainer A either doesn't know we're not ready for the test or she's lying to me to make me feel better.  Either way, not cool.  If I'd gone in with the mission to go straight, no curl, and accept my rough score because that's where we're at?  I could have gone home smiling because mission accomplished.  If I'd been told to drop down to First 1 because we've had to back up to fix some things, so be it.  But I wasn't.  I was sent in thinking I was competitive.

Going First level last season

I guess I bought my trailer and scheduled my lesson just in time.  I don't want to go backwards.  I started my season all shining hope and readiness.  Now we've slid back to the point we look like we should be doing Training level.  And worse, I felt like it was a solid test.  I felt like I'd presented my horse well and correctly for the level.  Hell, two weeks ago I'd been led to believe he could move up to Second in a couple months.  Apparently, I don't know where we're at anymore.

I'm responsible for my own riding.  I know.  At the end of the day, I rode him wrong and got smacked. I'm not looking for someone to blame.  But I can't be told that it's really good by one person and that we're not ready by everyone else.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

What they want

To be clear, dressage is new to me.  It's kind of weird and super subjective.  I get that.  But sometimes, you get a score and you damn well know you got screwed over.

That got a 57%, including a 5 for submission.  That test right there.  A 5 for submission.

I'm so confused.

Yes, his nose is in front of the vertical.  I made that choice.  I didn't want him to curl and he was tucking his nose in the warm up.  He was forward and straight and it felt very relaxed and nice.  He never once tried to break and none of the movements felt dicey.  Yes, the leg yield was a bit shitty, but the movements were all there and willing.

She said we didn't have enough bend on that lengthen trot movement.  What?  Seriously, what?  No comment on his actual lengthen (which I was proud of because he actually pushed), just a comment about his lack of bend at H and K.  I got 5.5s on every circle.  Not enough bend.  She said we don't have the connection required for the level.  I got a 5.5 for rider with the word 'subtly' underlined.

Now I feel completely lost.  I was feeling so good about that test when it was done.  He was so relaxed and willing in the ring of death.  I thought I had my 60.  He didn't over bend and throw his shoulders around, he didn't swing his haunches in.  Yes, he was ahead of the vertical, but geeze.  It's First level.  I thought his improved impulsion was more important.

We scored lower than my last test where I felt so bad and felt like the test was barely hanging on.  We scored five points lower than his test with Trainer A where he tried to break in the canter.  It's not like I was expecting a 70 or anything.  60 is supposed to mean you did it.  You completed the test and no one gasped or ducked or thought you weren't going to manage it.  We got beat by a horse that spun on center line and was braced through the neck due to tension for the entire test.  But by the gods, his nose was vertical.

I guess I really don't know what they want.